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How To Think Like Management (And How Doing So Can Help Your Career)

November 28th, 2007 · 12 Comments

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Are you one of those people who is always complaining that management doesn’t have any idea what’s really going on in your company?

It’s true. The very nature of an organization means those at the top don’t always have a clear picture of the challenges, issues, needs and motivations of those who are actually in the thick of it. Having difficult or incompetent management doesn’t help much either.

But has it ever occurred to you to turn the issue around? Do you have a good understanding of management? Do you understand why they do what they do – intelligent, stupid or otherwise?

You should.

Learning to think like management – or at least making an effort to understand why they think they way they do – can be one of the most important things you can do to get ahead in your career.

Thinking Outside the Box Can Mean Thinking Like the Boss

Believe it or not, managers are people too. I know, sometimes it seems like they’re from a different planet, but just like you, they have needs, wants, goals and frustrations.

First and foremost, your boss likely has a boss of his or her own. There’s someone they have to report to and kiss up to. If things go wrong, there’s someone who will chew their ass out. Even if your boss is the Capo di tutti capi, there are always shareholders or quarterly reports to face.

The first key to thinking like management is to understand their motivations. What or who do they fear? Who do they need to impress? What will make them look bad (or good)? This might mean thinking macro and seeing things above your pay grade, but it will help you understand the good and the bad decisions they make. Just as a good boss takes the time to understand things from his employees’ point of view, the wise employee tries to understand her boss.

For instance, let’s say you’re boss has just put you on an insane new project. It makes no sense, probably can’t be done and won’t make any difference anyway. But can you look around the company and see why this project was initiated? What could have prompted it? What if you knew for a fact your division hasn’t developed a successful new project in ages. Maybe your boss is feeling the heat. Maybe this is a hail mary attempt by your boss to get a win on the scoresheet. Maybe this is just a conscious attempt by him or her to buy time. Maybe he or she is just out of ideas and this is a case of grasping at straws. Making an effort to understand the “why” can be key. This sort of realization can lead toward understanding:

You and Your Boss Are Often in This Together

Hard as that may be to swallow, very often your success is tied to your boss’ success. Remember the old phrase, S*** rolls downhill. If your boss, your division or your whole company are going down, remember, you’re in the same boat.

A successful organization, in business or otherwise, often depends on the successful functioning of a team. All members of the team need to understand the challenges, obstacles, opportunities and potential rewards of any given initiative. You shouldn’t always think of what’s in it for you. Sometimes think of what’s in it for your boss. Why? Because…

Your Boss’ Frustrations Can Be Your Best Opportunities

What sort of a worker do you want to be in your boss’ mind: just another employee, or THE employee to turn to to solve this pressing problem?

You want to be a trusted asset to management. You want to be someone with a reputation for getting things done. You want to be the one they turn to get solutions and results. And to be that person, you need to see the world from your bosses’ perspective.

After all, it is the employee with all the solutions that one day become the boss himself.

Here are 9 key tips to help you think like management and use your understanding to further your own career:

  1. Know management’s pressure points. This is the most important move you can make. Is the company’s stock in free fall because of poor sales? Now might be the ideal time to propose that pet initiative you’ve harbored for years. Management might be starved for ideas, and hey, it just so happens you’ve got tons of them. Is cost cutting the rule of the day? Maybe now is the time to burnish your reputation as the person who always proposes the most cost-effective projects and brings them in under budget.
  2. Anticipate and offer solutions. You know how a good personal assistant is supposed to anticipate your needs? What sort of a miracle worker would you look like if you were solving your boss’ problems before she even made them public? Don’t wait for the crisis meeting to be called; take the initiative yourself and begin finding solutions before you’re even told to do so.
  3. Understand the interpersonal. A large part of your boss’ job is managing his team. Try to see your co-workers through your boss’ eyes. Try to see yourself as your boss sees you. Try to get an understanding for the contours of your office’s politics, and move yourself into an advantageous position. Why didn’t you get chosen for that project? And why did he? What are you not offering and how can you offer it? Again, if you understand what your boss needs or values, you can figure out how be the person they’ll turn to to deliver it.
  4. Talk to your boss. To the extent that you can, don’t be afraid to figure out management by quizzing them directly. At the very worst, you are demonstrating a genuine interest in the organization. At the very best, you’re showing management you can grasp the big picture and they might start to think of you as… gasp!… management material.
  5. Make your boss look bad. Toiling under a bad or incompetent boss? The quickest way to get out from under him is to show management you can do it better. Impress his bosses. Throw your boss’ failures into stark relief by bringing in the results he never could.
  6. Make your boss look good. Remember, the flip side to “I’m only in it for myself” is “A rising tide lifts all boats.” If you’re on a good team, success can mean everyone gets ahead. If you become your boss’ main man, her trusted lieutenant, she’ll likely take you with her as she rises in the company.
  7. Try to anticipate the good decisions management might make, and claim a share of the credit. As you begin to understand what makes management tick, you’ll begin to get a good idea of when they’re batting 1000 and when they’re striking out. This isn’t kissing up, it’s positioning. Don’t stand around and let management’s decisions wash over you. If your boss hits a home run, be sure you’re in a position to trot around the bases with him. Conversely…
  8. Try to anticipate the bad decisions management might make, and get the hell out of the way! The more you understand your bosses’ foibles, the more you’ll begin to anticipate the things she does well and the things she will almost certainly screw up. Don’t let the bad decisions stick to or reflect on you.
  9. Think like the CEO. Or owner of the company. If you worked at Apple, imagine you are Steve Jobs. What is he worried about? What is he excited about? What problems does he need to solve? Imagine which new product will likely mean most to the company in the next two years and get yourself on that team. Consider a market the company has never been able to crack. If you find a solution, you’ll look like a hero. If you were the one calling the shots, what would you want your star employees to be doing? Figure that out and then begin doing it!

Related posts:

  1. My Dumb Office- Management… A Different Animal?
  2. How Have A Six Figure Career
  3. How To Save Your Job Part 3- Frontload Your Accomplishments

Tags: Getting Ahead · Office Politcs · WorkLife

  • Richard

    Great post. I wonder if it is a valuable to think like management if your company is in the crapper versus when its doing well. I know, anticipate their stupid decisions. Still, a crap company means crap managers, right?

  • Sarah

    No, he addressed that. See number 8.

  • Michael

    I could try to think like my boss, but that would require at least a partial lobotomy.

  • Tim

    Excellent post!

  • Karl

    You point out that S**** rolls downhill. But credit never does. If you help your boss get ahead, you can’t always rely on the credit rubbing off on you as well.

  • Janice

    No, it’s important to think like the company is thinking. If you don’t, it’s like being in the middle of a game without knowing thre rules.

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  • David B. Wright

    Good advice! One point to add: keep track of your contributions and your successes. Not only does this keep you focused on doing the things that will advance your career, it also gives you some powerful ammunition when review time comes around, so that you’ve got a better chance at getting that big raise that you’re gunning for. Most employee files consist mainly of the basic administrative things and whatever mistakes have been made. Keeping track of your successes helps balance the scales for you.
    To your success,
    David B. Wright
    Author, Get A Job! Your Guide to Making Successful Career Moves

  • Matt

    What about when your company’s profit is sinking, and the Executive Director still insists on hiring more 6 figure salaried people?

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